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Maintenance Departments Feeling Pinch of Shrinking Budgets

Posted on April 26, 2011 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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Photo Courtesy: The T
Photo Courtesy: The T
With transit agencies experiencing shrinking budgets, their maintenance teams are also feeling the pinch, with a large majority of maintenance managers saying they are indeed being asked to cut back or maintain services with fewer resources, according to METRO Magazine's inaugural Bus Maintenance Survey.

"We are being asked to expand service, but hold our budget flat," explains one respondent. "Our board is using every available dollar to fund our expansions."

When asked how they are dealing with this dynamic, answers ranged from cutting overtime and watching costs "very closely" to reshuffling mechanic and fueler schedules to better suit their needs.

METRO sent out more than 40 surveys — with questions ranging from training practices and practical experiences with alternative-fuel technologies to biggest challenges and most frequently seen issues in the shop — to agencies across the U.S. and Canada, with about one-third responding.

Agencies varied in fleet size, with the largest maintaining 990 buses and the smallest 72, and in staff, which ranged from 220 full-time mechanics to just 14. On average, those surveyed run each vehicle in their fleet 47,857 miles per year, with one respondent averaging as high as 100,000 miles per vehicle, per year. The lowest annual average was approximately 26,000 per year.

Overall, the most frequent issue in the shop, according to respondents, was parts, which included concerns about availability, lead times and frequent failures. Meanwhile, dealing with new cleaner burning engines with alternative propulsion, electrical (issues/training), scheduling service and frequent brake change/failures rounded out the top five.

Sixty-one percent of those surveyed say they are having difficulty hiring new mechanics, with reasons ranging from lack of training in ever-evolving technologies to budget constraints to the large number of baby boomers retiring. Interestingly, the majority of the 39 percent that responded "no," say the economy has resulted in less turnover of mechanics and a wider field of experienced applicants when a job is available.

Shrinking budgets are also impacting vehicle replacement, with a majority of respondents saying they have to extend the life cycle of their current fleets and/or change the way they spec future buses to get an extra two to three years of life.

Below are some select answers to questions posed throughout the survey. METRO hopes to expand and refine the Bus Maintenance Survey in the future. If you would like to participate or provide feedback on issues you would like to see covered, please email us at [email protected].

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